Scope and arrangement
The James S. Watson Papers, 1913-1991, document his career as a judge, his legal decisions and opinions, his numerous civic and community activities, and his personal and family life. The Papers consist of correspondence, legal documents, minutes, writings, financial records, clippings and printed material. The Personal Papers include biographical material and correspondence to and from family, friends, and acquaintances, both in Jamaica and the United States. Letters from son James to his parents while serving during World War II are located in the Personal Papers and the Family Papers series where additional family correspondence is filed. Although material prior to 1930 is sketchy, the Professional Series documents the entirety of Watson's working career and his electoral campaigns. Of special interest in this series are two files located in the General File sub-series which deal with cases filed by the Newspaper Guild of New York against The New York Amsterdam News in 1936 and 1937, respectively, regarding the firing of city editor Ted Poston and reporter Henry Lee Moon in 1936 and editor Obie McCullum and sports writer and theater critic Roi Ottley in 1937. On both occasions Watson acted as arbitrator. Watson's professional life is further documented in the Speeches and Writings series, as is his role in the Harlem and West Indian communities which is also recorded in the collection's Civic and Community Activities series. Overall, the Civic and Community Activities series contain correspondence, requests for aid, meeting notices, minutes and reports from the Harlem Branch of the Young Men's Christian Association, the Harlem Adult Education Committee and various labor and civil rights groups. The General File series contain requests for immigration and financial assistance as well as correspondence from Claude McKay and editor A.M.Wendell Malliet with whom Watson consulted regarding a projected autobiography.
The James S. Watson papers are arranged in six series:
The PERSONAL PAPERS, 1914-1952, (.6 lin. ft.),series includes resumes and other biographical material and correspondence with family members, friends and acquaintances. The family correspondence consists of letters from his father James M. Watson and his brother Charles M. Hinchcliffe, both in Jamaica, West Indies, and letters from his wife, two daughters and two sons. The bulk of the family correspondence is from his immediate family and was written primarily between September and October 1947 while Watson was in Jamaica, West Indies on family business. The letters from his son James were written primarily between 1943 and 1944 while the latter was serving in the United States Army; some are written from camp and others from the front in Italy. Additional letters from James written during World War II are in Violet Watson's files in the Family Papers. The remaining correspondence is with friends in Jamaica, many of whom were prominent citizens of that island, and friends in the United States such as Philadelphia attorney Raymond Pace Alexander and Sidney T. Christian, one of Watson's ex- law partners. All correspondence has been arranged chronologically. Rounding out this series are get well notes, invitations and general personal notes received during his 1947 visit to Jamaica, one folder of personal financial items and one folder pertaining to the estate of his brother Charles M. Hinchcliffe.
The PROFESSIONAL PAPERS, 1914-1952, (.4 lin. ft.),series is divided into the following subseries: General File,1914-1952, (.4 lin. ft.), Municipal Court of the City of New York,1931-1950, (.8 lin. ft.), and Municipal Civil Service Commission,1950-1952, (.2 lin. ft.). Documentation on Watson's career prior to 1930 is somewhat sketchy. His years in the law offices of House, Grossman & Vorhaus, his years in private practice at 240 Broadway and 101 West 135th Street and his tenure as Special Assistant Counsel to the Corporation Counsel of the City of New York are documented only through resumes, cover letters, letters of reference and a few newsclippings.
The CIVIC AND COMMUNITY ACTIVITIES, 1918-1952, (.8 lin. ft.),series documents Watson's role in the Harlem and broader New York City community as well as in the West Indian community. The correspondence files have been arranged alphabetically with organizations and individuals interfiled. Most of the information on the Caribbean community of Harlem is included here even though it is mainly represented by only the constitutions and by-laws of the various organizations. It is also sometimes difficult to determine which organizations Watson may have held membership in versus those he may simply have incorporated. The series overall includes correspondence and meeting notices from organizations such as the Harlem Branch of the Young Men's Christian Association of which he was a Board member; minutes and reports of organizations such as the Harlem Adult Education Committee; telegrams and letters, some from labor and civil rights organizations, pertaining to issues such as lynching, voting rights and other civil rights issues, often seeking his endorsement on a specific issue; correspondence and printed material relating to various economic and social issues affecting the Harlem community such as better health care and juvenile delinquency; invitations to civic gatherings and related affairs and requests for donations and other forms of aid.
The SPEECHES AND WRITINGS, 1908-1952, (.8 lin. ft.),series mainly consists of over 100 speeches, and a few articles, poems, and messages. The speeches are primarily unpublished and are in the form of handwritten drafts, manuscripts and typewritten copies; some are incomplete; all have been arranged chronologically. The speeches were delivered before various professional, educational, fraternal, civic and religious bodies. As one of Watson's main interests was youth welfare, many of his addresses were delivered at school assemblies, commencement exercises and before various youth groups. Rounding out this series is correspondence regarding speaking engagements, articles and flyers announcing speaking engagements, quotes and poems, sometimes of favorite authors, which he often used in his speeches.
The GENERAL FILE, 1911-1952, (.4 lin. ft.),series consists of requests from those seeking advice, especially on immigration matters and requests for help, usually economic. The correspondence from writer Claude McKay is of a general nature; in one letter he seeks answers to various questions regarding the Harlem political scene of the 1930s and 1940s. The letters from editor A.M. Wendell Malliet cover various subjects such as upcoming meetings and functions as well as information regarding the projected autobiography which Watson had under consideration. Additional information on the autobiography may be found among Violet L. Watson's papers (in the Family Papers series), and portions of an autobiographical chapter may be found among Watson's writings.
The FAMILY PAPERS, 1917-1991, (.8 lin. ft.),series is divided into the following subseries: Violet L. Watson, Douglas C. Watson, Grace E. Watson and James L. Watson. Barbara M. Watson's papers in the Schomburg Center constitute a separate collection and are described separately. Violet L. Watson's papers include letters from her husband and four children, including letters from James L. Watson written during World War II; letters from family friend, artist Richmond Barthe; printed material on Jamaican Independence celebrations; funeral arrangements and condolence notes upon her husband's death, letters, and an outline and notes from Wendell Malliet for a proposed biography of James S. Watson. Douglas, Grace and James L. Watson's papers include letters from each other and from their parents, mainly their father as well as their sister Barbara; financial records for Skiz, Inc. a joint family business; one legal opinion by James L. Watson and miscellaneous printed material.